Monday, May 6, 2019

A Third U-boat Visits Newport



Fans of Newport’s naval history should be well-acquainted with the stories of the German submarines that appeared in Narragansett Bay and its vicinity during the two world wars. SM U-53 paid a visit in 1916 when the United States was still a neutral power, hoping to convince its leaders to stay out of the war in Europe. Then in 1945, U-853 arrived off the East Coast and was sunk near Point Judith just two days before Germany surrendered. But did you know that a third U-boat came to Newport 100 years ago this past Sunday?

The United States spent approximately $32 billion fighting the First World War, about 52 percent of its gross national product. Though the war ended in 1918, efforts to pay off the bills persisted into the 1930s. Organizers of the successful Liberty Loan campaign launched the fifth and final war bond drive in 1919. They now had at their disposal captured German military equipment to drum up sales, and those who purchased the bonds were treated to a close-up look at the tanks, airplanes, and submarines they had read so much about during the war.

One of those submarines was SM U-111. Surrendered at Harwich, England on November 20, 1918, it underwent repairs and testing until April when it was turned over to the United States Navy under the command of Lieutenant Commander Freeland A. Daubin. Sailing under its own power, Daubin’s crew took U-111 across the Atlantic and arrived safely in Portland, Maine on April 18. After spending two weeks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, U-111 joined four other captured U-boats to promote sales during the Victory Liberty Loan.
U-111 in Boston
Boston Public Library

Following visits to Boston and New Bedford, U-111 appeared in Newport harbor early on the morning of May 5. Local newspapers fanned the public’s curiosity by incorrectly reporting that U-111 was one of the U-boats responsible for torpedoing American vessels during the war. According to the Newport Daily News, the U-boat “entered the harbor flying the Stars and Stripes above the German ensign...The white and black bunting appeared strange flying in Newport harbor and some remarked about it, but when others called attention to the fact that it was flying below Old Glory the critics seemed satisfied.”


U-111 tied up at Sullivan's Wharf in Newport
Newport Historical Society

The first thing most visitors noticed was its size. At 240 feet in length, U-111 was larger than the U.S. Navy’s submarines that Newport’s residents were used to seeing at Goat Island. Those who purchased bonds before their visit received permission to go inside the sub. According to the Daily News’ reporter, “the change from the bright spring sunlight and the fine air to the contracted interior, where the snugness of the quarters seemed to take hold of one and give one a compressed feeling, was rather oppressive. Many who went on board would have gone through about anything for the satisfaction of being able to say they had been through a captured Hun submarine.” Another feature that drew their attention was the deck armament. U-111 mounted two four-inch guns which were “large guns in the eyes of landlubbers.” Many visitors were unaware that U-boats carried anti-submarine net cutters and were puzzled by the saw mounted on the submarine’s bow.


Closeup of U-111's stern with Boston's Longfellow Bridge visible in the background
Boston Public Library

Unfortunately for Newport’s working residents, U-111 was scheduled to be in Providence by 5:00 on the evening of the 5th. Its late-afternoon departure meant that many never got the chance to see the submarine before it left for the larger crowds anticipated in Rhode Island’s biggest city. Still, the Liberty Loan salesmen did a healthy business in Newport during this brief but tantalizing visit by one of America’s war trophies.



Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum

Friday, April 12, 2019

WAVES of Intelligence


Marjorie Rose Pollard ID card
Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park
(click to enlarge)
Our upcoming exhibit WAVES of Intelligence tells the story of the U.S. Navy’s efforts in World War II to locate and destroy German U-boats. Doing so required the Navy to decipher encrypted radio messages sent by the German high command using a special machine called Enigma. This vital work could not have been accomplished without the efforts of the thousands of women who joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) between 1942-1945. Women performed the essential tracking duties necessary to safeguard Allied shipping by locating U-boats and other Axis warships. They also built and operated a top secret machine known as the Bombe which decrypted Enigma messages. We are pleased to have on loan from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum the personal effects and PT uniform that belonged to one of these WAVES.

Marjorie Rose Pollard was born on January 12, 1923, in Kansas City, Missouri, to Clayton C. and Nancy Pollard. After graduating from high school in 1940, she worked in sales and eventually became a telephone operator. Pollard enlisted in the WAVES on March 15, 1943. After finishing basic training, she was assigned to the U.S. Naval Computing Machine Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. The laboratory was a joint venture between the Navy and the National Cash Register (NCR) Company whose purpose was to produce Bombe machines for the Navy’s codebreakers. Pollard lived with her fellow WAVES in Sugar Camp, a pre-war sales training facility that NCR gave over to the Navy during the war years. She worked in Dayton from May through October 1943 before being transferred to the Naval Communications Station in Washington, D.C., where she commenced work as a Bombe operator. Cryptanalytic operations were highly compartmentalized, and most WAVES were not told exactly what they were doing even though they held top secret clearances. Pollard advanced in rank from seaman apprentice to petty officer first class while at the Communications Station. She was discharged on December 1, 1945, and returned to Kansas City where she resumed her prior job as a telephone operator. Marjorie Rose Pollard died on June 16, 2000, in Independence, Missouri.


















PT shirt worn by Marjorie Rose Pollard while
stationed at the U.S. Naval Computing Machine Laboratory
Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park
(click to enlarge)


Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Newest Acquisition: U-boat Engine Telegraph

How did a World War I-era German U-boat end up at the bottom of Lake Michigan? The answer is revealed in the newest addition to the Naval War College Museum collection.

The German submarine campaign of 1914-1918 nearly succeeded in bringing Great Britain to its knees. The terms of the Armistice required Germany to surrender its most technologically advanced weapons, including all of its U-boats. Though the British argued for a future ban on submarine warfare at the peace conference negotiations, they allowed other navies to study German submarine technology in exchange for a promise to destroy the U-boats once examinations were complete.

It was under these circumstances that six U-boats crossed the Atlantic in April 1919 under control of the U.S. Navy. U-117, U-140, UB-148, U-111, UC-97, and UB-88 made their way to the East Coast where they underwent repairs in preparation for a victory tour. This was due mainly to the efforts of Captain Thomas Hart who chaired the postwar U-Boat Plans Committee. As the United States shifted its focus to the Pacific Ocean and potential conflict with Japan, the Committee called for the construction of long-range submarines capable of sustained independent operations. Hart convinced the U.S. government to take the six U-boats for use in the Victory Loan campaign, a postwar operation that utilized captured enemy equipment to sell bonds for paying off government war debt. Hart also hoped to improve future U.S. submarines through careful study of the U-boats' inner workings. Indeed, they outperformed American designs in several key aspects. Lieutenant Commander Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., the officer placed in charge of UC-97, remarked that, “We had much to learn from these enemy boats. Their design was better than ours and they could dive much faster than we could.”

UC-97
(click to enlarge)
UC-97 was a coastal submarine designed primarily to lay mines. A small U-boat even by World War I standard, it measured just 185 feet long and had a crew of 32. The advertising for the Victory Loan campaign claimed that UC-97 sank seven ships resulting in the loss of 50 lives, but in fact it entered service just months before the war ended and never went on patrol. Still, the allure of an enemy war machine was enough to draw crowds wherever the sub stopped. From May through August, it made its way down the St. Lawrence Seaway and in to the Great Lakes before ending its tour in Chicago. “A New Jersey sea serpent couldn't have caused much more excitement than did the German submarine UC-97 along the North Shore today,” reported the Chicago Daily News.

UC-97 receiving visitors in Racine, Wisconsin
(click to enlarge)
Once the fund-raising portion of its mission was concluded, work crews stripped the boat of any equipment that could prove useful to the Navy. UC-97’s radio equipment got shipped to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and the Washington Navy Yard. The Bureau of Construction and Repair received its engines, periscopes, pumps, and motors while the Naval Observatory took the navigational equipment. The engine telegraph was removed by workers from the Chicago Shipbuilding Company and presented to the plant manager as a retirement gift. Today, it has found its way back to the U.S. Navy.

Engine telegraph from UC-97
Naval War College Museum Collection
In keeping with the terms of the Armistice, UC-97 was towed out into Lake Michigan and sunk for target practice on June 7, 1921 by USS Wilmette (IX-29). Lost for decades, the wreck site was located in 1992 by a privately-owned salvage company.


Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tribute to President George H.W. Bush


In observance of the national day of mourning for President Bush, we’re proudly displaying a print from our collection that he signed along with some of his fellow veterans. By now you’ve probably heard that he was a naval aviator who survived being shot down during World War II. Low Holding over San Jacinto by Robert Taylor depicts Lt. j.g. Bush’s TBM Avenger and three of his squadron mates preparing to land on USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).

Low Holding Over San Jacinto by Robert Taylor
(click to enlarge)
Before he fought in the Pacific Theater, Bush trained at several locations on the East Coast including Naval Auxilliary Air Station Charlestown here in Rhode Island. Charlestown was used to prepare pilots for night operations, and part of his training included practice landings on the outline of an aircraft carrier deck painted on the runway. He later referred to those exercises as “damn good training.”

On September 2, 1944, Bush flew one of four aircraft from VT-51 that was assigned to attack a radio tower on the island of Chichi Jima (part of the Ogasawara archipelago that also includes Iwo Jima). The Japanese Army was using the radio tower to send warnings of incoming B-29 raids from Saipan and Tinian. As Bush approached the target, his aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire. Damaged but not disabled, he dropped his bombs on target before turning around and heading out to sea. But smoke eventually filled the cabin to the point where Bush had to bail out. Neither of the other two crew members survived. An American submarine, USS Finback (SS-230), had been assigned lifeguard duty for the raid and was in the area waiting to pick up downed air crew. Friendly aircraft guided Finback to the wet and wounded Bush who had been floating in a small life raft for four hours. Bush earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the Chichi Jima raid.

Low Holding Over San Jacinto is signed by George Bush and nine other members of VT-51. Their names are Leo Nadeau (gunner on Bush’s crew), Nat Adams, R.A. Alexander, Jack Guy, William Hile, L.R. Hole, Sam Jackson, Joseph Martelle, and Richard Playstead.

(click to enlarge)

Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum

Friday, November 2, 2018

NWCM torpedo boat model now on display at MIT Museum

The MIT Museum recently opened an exhibit about the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company of Bristol, RI, and its astounding record of success in producing racing yachts as well as small motorized craft. Lighter, Stronger, Faster: The Herreshoff Legacy celebrates the spirit of innovation by examining the unparalleled impact on marine design and engineering of Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, one of two brothers who founded the company. Best of all, the exhibit features our model of the Stiletto, an experimental torpedo boat built by the Herreshoffs for the U.S. Navy! We are thrilled to have it on display at the MIT Museum where it will remain through 2021.
Naval War College Museum model of Stiletto on display at the MIT Museum

But how does a company that builds lightweight sailboats get involved in warship construction for the Navy? For the Herreshoffs, it began when Nathanael (or Nat as friends and family called him) graduated from MIT in 1870 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Nat developed an interest in steam power and accepted a position with the Corliss Steam Engine Company in Providence after graduation. The highlight of his time there was the company’s production of a gigantic 1,400 horsepower engine for the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. Nat oversaw operation of the 40-foot tall engine which powered the exposition’s exhibits. From that experience, he devised new ideas for shrinking steam engines down to a size that would make them practical for use in small vessels while still generating an impressive amount of power.

Fortunately for the Herreshoffs, their factory in Bristol was just a few miles up Narragansett Bay from the Naval Torpedo Station on Goat Island. The officers there quickly got to know the Herreshoffs and recognized that their steam vessels often outperformed the Navy’s own designs. Their interest in steam power was timely, as the Navy was in the midst of replacing its obsolete fleet of sailing ships left over from the Civil War.

One of the new vessel types then under development was the torpedo boat. Spar torpedoes had been used in the Civil War by both the Union and Confederate navies with limited success. In 1869, the Navy established the Torpedo Station on Goat Island to work out practical designs for automotive torpedoes that could be launched at a target from afar without exposing the boat’s crew to danger. Such a vessel would have to be small, fast, and agile – just what the Herreshoffs did best.

Nat originally drew up the plans for Stiletto as a private project to test his new “square” boiler. After winning a well-publicized race on the Hudson River, Stiletto attracted the Navy’s attention as a possible test platform for torpedo boat technology. Congress authorized her purchase in 1887, and she entered service at Goat Island the following year. The Navy’s initial plan was to install two bow torpedo tubes, but this was changed to a torpedo gun mounted on the centerline that could traverse 180 degrees to allow launching over either side. Stiletto was eventually equipped with a single bow tube in 1892.
Stiletto launching a torpedo in the Sakonnet River near Tiverton, c.1895

Stiletto rarely left Narragansett Bay and was never used for anything besides experimental duty. However, her service provided valuable data to both government and private designers who were working to modernize the U.S. Navy. Students at the Naval War College studied how small vessels armed with torpedoes changed existing concepts of naval strategy. They played war games that highlighted both the potential and liabilities of torpedo boats. The lessons learned from these games served the Navy well when it deployed to the North Atlantic during World War I to face the ultimate torpedo-armed threat, the submarine.

Monday, October 1, 2018

New Acquisition: Japanese Machine Guns from WWII


The Naval War College Museum has a small but impressive collection of small arms from World War II. We recently acquired two Japanese machine guns that help illustrate the progression of military technology as the Japanese army worked to improve on pre-war designs.

Type 97 (above) and Type 99 (below) machine guns
Naval War College Museum Collection























The Type 97 began life as a heavy machine gun intended for use on tanks and vehicles. Approximately 18,000 were built between 1937–1945. The inner-workings were based on the Czech ZB vz/26 light machine gun of the 1920s, but they featured different stocks and grips. The Type 97 fired the same 7.7mm round used by the standard issue rifle at that time, the Type 99 Arisaka, allowing individual soldiers and weapons crews to easily share ammunition with each other. When mounted on vehicles, they were often fitted with a 1.5 power telescopic sight. The Type 97 could be stripped down to a slightly lighter version for use by infantry, but even this type weighed nearly 25 lbs and was found to be too heavy for widespread use once the war started.


The Type 99 Nambu gas-operated light machine gun entered trial service with the Japanese Army in 1939, and mass production of these weapons began in Apr 1942. Its predecessor, the Type 96, fired a 6.5mm round that had excellent range and accuracy, but lacked the hitting power of more modern weapons. The Type 99 was designed to use the 7.7mm cartridge. As the war progressed, shortages of this ammunition caused many units to retain their older Type 96s and abandon the Type 99 when forced to retreat. Most Type 99s were deployed with 2.5 power optical sights which were powerful enough to allow these weapons to be used as sniper rifles. It could also be used in an anti-aircraft role if necessary. More than 46,000 were produced in three government arsenals and two privately-run factories. Though the quality of manufacture declined as the war progressed, U.S. Army ordnance specialists rated it as one of the best light machine guns of its time.


Type 99 in action as an anti-aircraft weapon
February 1942






















Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum

Monday, June 4, 2018

Grading RADM Spruance's Performance at the Battle of Midway


Routine administrative paperwork rarely makes for interesting reading. On occasion, though, the documents generated by Navy bureaucracy can be illuminating, especially when they are associated with important historical events. In honor of the anniversary of the Battle of Midway, today's highlight is the officer fitness report that was filed for Admiral Raymond Spruance following the events of June 4-7, 1942.

Two of the three carriers that participated in the battle, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), together comprised Task Force 16. Veterans of the Doolittle raid as well as smaller raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific, its commander was Vice Admiral William Halsey. In late May 1942, Halsey contracted shingles and was forced to turn over his command while he recovered. The head of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz, asked him who should take over in his absence. Halsey had anticipated this question and handed over a letter recommending Spruance due to his outstanding performance as the commander of TF 16’s cruiser division. The two had become close friends despite their contrasting command styles – Halsey was outgoing and aggressive in battle while Spruance’s demeanor was quiet and reflective even under the stress of war. Now Spruance got the nod to lead TF 16 in combat.

Spruance’s boss during the Battle of Midway, Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, was also new to carrier operations, having commanded cruisers and battleships for most of his career. Luckily for both, they inherited experienced staffs who took care of flight operations, leaving them free to concentrate on making critical decisions. In Spruance’s case, his most valuable aid was Halsey’s chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning. Having earned his wings in 1924, Browning served Spruance well and advised him on all aviation matters. The two did have disagreements during the battle, however, and there were several instances when Spruance overruled him.

The most important example of this occurred at 7:45 AM on June 4 as the initial strikes were getting airborne. Spruance ordered the dive bombers that had launched first to proceed on their mission without waiting for the torpedo bombers that comprised the rest of the attack wave. Enterprise had intercepted a radio transmission from a Japanese scout plane indicating that TF 16 had been sighted, and Spruance did not want to delay his own attack. He changed the plan and sent the dive bombers on their way. This decision allowed them to save just enough fuel to conduct a search at the end of their flight which resulted in locating the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi.

Fitness report filed for RADM Raymond A. Spruance on August 14, 1942
Courtesy of the Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College
(click to enlarge)

In mid-August, Fletcher completed his assessment of Spruance’s performance as a commander. After noting that Spruance’s flagship was “operating with a major task force of the Pacific Fleet under conditions of war,” Fletcher went on to rate Spruance a perfect 4/4 in his present assignment and a 3.9/4 for ability to command. His remarks convey fully but succinctly the depth of his respect for Spruance: “An outstanding flag officer who has proved his capabilities in action. Has only come under my personal observation and command at Battle of Midway but his actions on that occasion leave no doubt as to his character and ability.”

Spruance's and Halsey’s careers remained closely connected, each experiencing triumph and the sting of criticism in the years that followed. Spruance went on to command Fifth Fleet and presided over The Battle of the Philippine Sea which resulted in the destruction of most of Japan's remaining carrier aircraft. Much of the surface fleet escaped, however, leading some to suggest that Spruance had been too timid when presented with a golden opportunity. Likewise, Halsey finally got his chance to command in a pivotal battle when his carriers participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Though his pilots sank four Japanese carriers, he was criticized for leaving the American invasion fleet in the Philippines nearly defenseless while he chased what turned out to be a decoy force far to the north. Nevertheless, both men survived the war and received honors for their roles in helping to win it. Halsey was promoted to Fleet Admiral in December 1945 and remains the most recent officer to hold that rank. Spruance served as the twenty-sixth President of the Naval War College, with his term running from March 1946 until his retirement in July 1948.

Rob Doane
Curator
Naval War College Museum